After non-stop seasons as one of the UK’s brightest design talents, Supriya Lele’s feeling a bit exhausted. So she took herself on holiday to sunny Thailand.
“I needed to sit back for a moment and take some stock,” she says, now refreshed, over Zoom. “It’s been so busy. A really intense time, in a good way, of course. But I had to reflect on that.”
Lele’s been on a one-woman transcendence through contemporary British fashion since she was one-third of Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East line-up in 2017. Having joined soon after finishing an MA in Fashion Womenswear at the Royal College of Art – where her final collection was a personal love letter to the female body through opulent tailoring and carefully-considered textures – Lele’s three-season stint at the talent incubator quickly saw her develop the sensual, lo-fi modernity she’s applauded for now.
Always personal, the West Midlands-born designer carried an extensive breadth of experience that has seen her through the seasons: chiefly the Indian heritage of her family, and the British surroundings of her formative years. The result has been a vibrant, nuanced take on a dual-heritage upbringing, with influences found in the sari-like draping of a club-ready mini dress, as well as the angsty attitude of her runway models (inspired, you suspect, from a teenage years spent listening to heavy metal).
“I can’t really help the storytelling and the essence of making something quite personal – it just happens that way every season,” Lele says. “I’ve always felt that I want to tell this story and I want it to feel that way ever since I started doing my brand. So it’s kind of inevitable. I don’t think I can make it feel less so.”
Designers are looking to their ancestral histories now more than ever, making for a diverse London Fashion Week schedule that doesn’t adhere to a linear point of view. Lele’s take is broad, influenced as much by the sartorial stylings found in old family photographs or the textiles and gingham print of a tea towel. If you look hard enough, the snippets of texture, shape and cut that Lele encounters every day are found in the ruching of a cut-out body top, a beaded sarong heavily layered from the waist, or a sunset orange gingham print on a full-length sheer dress.
Make no mistake, however – Lele never indulges in rose-tinted nostalgia. Her looking-back exercises are carefully curtailed with a strong, contemporary voice, owed to her hawk-eyed presence in London’s youth scenes, whether that’s a weekend rave or a trip down the pub, visiting a newly-opened exhibition or, simply, taking a stroll down the street and spotting a well-dressed teen.
“I notice what people are wearing first, obviously,” she says. “But it’s not about labels or anything like that – I’m not bothered about that. It’s about style, how people put things together, and how people curate themselves. I find that really exciting.”
The woman Lele designs for is, admittedly, those in her personal circle, taking cues from the creative team working in her studio and her tight-knit group of friends. And yet, over the years, her influence has found its way onto London’s darkened dance floors – where teeny-tiny bralets and layers of sheer fabric reign supreme.
“I design for a really broad range of people, and I think what’s nice is that there are some sort of signature codes that people really want to follow,” she says. “It feels like the world comes together more and more each season.”
Before gearing up for her next collection, which she’ll present at London Fashion Week in September, Lele found time to take on a role as one of Diet Coke’s style ambassadors for the “Love What You Love” campaign, sharing her tips on, well, loving what you love.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but you just have to be yourself and go with what you like and go with your gut on everything,” she says. “It’s how you put things together and how you see the world – style is ultimately how you view the world and yourself, right?”
Politically tuned-in, Lele’s well aware of the harshness of life for many right now, forcibly accelerated by the cost of living crisis. As a designer, she’s opting to further push an optimistic agenda in her work. But on a practical level, she’s rethinking the scale of her brand altogether.
“I’m making luxury products so it has made me reevaluate the scale of what I’m doing and what I’m trying to say,” she says. “It’s reaffirmed that I like to keep things quite small and independent. In the times we live in, I just want to be more creative rather than pushing more products out. It doesn’t feel appropriate.”
Lele’s feeling positive about the future of fashion, though. And about the fact that, while the pandemic halted designers , and caused considerable financial strains, it did open up new possibilities, too.
“There’s less pressure on designers to do seasonal collections all the time, and a sense of people not feeling like they have to always show via a [physical] show, but instead doing interesting projects.”
With her prime still ahead of her, Supriya Lele is one of British fashion’s foremost voices. As for her next collection, which she and her team are at the very early stages of?
“It’s summer season, and that’s pretty strong territory for me,” Lele says, hinting at a sun-kissed, turbo-charged Lele 2.0. “We’re going to push on colour, texture and silhouette. I think it’s going to be pretty fun.”
Supriya Lele is one of the style ambassadors for Diet Coke’s new “Love What You Love” campaign. Find out more information here.